Whitmer officials push implicit bias training requirement for Michigan's health workers

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
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Lansing — Health care professionals in Michigan will soon have to go through implicit bias training to obtain or renew their state licenses under rules announced Tuesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration.

The policy could be among the lasting reforms of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a disproportionate impact on Black Michiganians. Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Orlene Hawks, director of the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, detailed the new standard during a press conference at the Forest Community Health Center in Lansing.

The new policy is set to take effect a year later on June 1, 2022.

The Democratic governor described implicit biases as the thoughts and feelings that exist outside a person's awareness. They are difficult to mitigate without training, Whitmer said.

Orlene Hawks,  director for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, speaks to a reporters after a press conference on Tuesday, June 1, 2021.

"We all have some form of implicit biases," she said. "And we've got to acknowledge that and use proven methods to lessen the impact of that bias that we all bring to the table.

"By training health care workers on recognizing and reducing implicit bias, we can eliminate misconceptions and stereotypes that lead to disparities in outcomes."

Michigan licenses more than 400,000 health care professionals. Under the rules, new applicants for licenses or registration will have to complete at least two hours of implicit bias training, and those seeking license renewal will have to complete at least one hour of training each year.

The training can be offered by a health-related organization, an accredited college or university, a state or federal agency, a continuing education program approved by a state licensing board or an organization specializing in diversity, equity and inclusion issues.

"Michigan is boldly leading the nation in addressing implicit bias within the practice of health care," Hawks said.

Michigan's first COVID-19 cases were identified in March 2020. By the next month, 40% of those killed by the coronavirus in the state were Black, a percentage that far exceeded the proportion of African Americans in the Detroit region and state. Across Michigan, 14% of the population is Black.

As of now, 21% of those whose deaths have been linked to the virus in Michigan were Black.

The pandemic exposed disparities in health care, Hawks said Tuesday. But the state is taking steps to enact systemic change, added the director, who signed the new rules.

In April 2020, Whitmer appointed the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities chaired by Gilchrist to study the issue of racial disparities.

Acting on the group's recommendations, the governor signed an executive directive in July, asking the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to begin developing rules to require implicit bias training for health care professionals.

At the time, the Michigan State Medical Society, which advocates on behalf of doctors, said it supported the training as part of medical education and encouraged the training and awareness for health care professionals. Society Chief Operating Officer Kevin McFatridge said Tuesday the organization stands behind those comments.

In August, Whitmer signed an executive directive, requiring implicit bias training for state employees.


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